BWW Review: NEXT FALL at Chapel Off Chapel
Review by Ian Andrew
Geoffrey Nauffts highly-acclaimed Next Fall is something of a theatrical success story, with the original 2009 production receiving critical praise, an extended Broadway season and a Tony-Award nomination. The play follows the five-year relationship of unlikely couple Adam - a frustrated and neurotic forty-year-old writer and atheist - and Luke, a 20-something year old devout Christian who cannot come out to his parents. Their history is revealed through flashbacks, while in the present Luke fights for life in hospital after an accident and family and friends gather to hold vigil. Perhaps a victim of the reputation that precedes it, this production is only intermittently moving and ultimately it is hard to see what all the fuss is about.
Staged in the Chapel Off Chapel Loft, fledgling set designer James Lew divides the small stage in two with a green curtain to denote the hospital setting, which is drawn open to reveal the apartment set for the flashback scenes. At times, this curtained partition forces the actors problematically far downstage (especially in key plot-revealing scenes such as the Adam-Arlene and Adam-Brandon interactions) however it succeeds in adding a claustrophobic air to the hospital waiting-room setting and facilitates unseen changes in the apartment setting. This is where Lew's design shines, with the apartment beginning as a set of covered furniture and gradually evolving into a home as time and relationship progress. A particularly effective touch was the suspended hospital waiting-room clock with only a second hand, adding to the sense of endless waiting. To accompany scene-changes Claire Healy composes a moody musical score which, while evocative, seems strangely edgy for what is an otherwise comical play.
The actors' performances are generally strong but collectively can be incohesive. Darrin Redgate drives the story forward as an energetic Adam who succeeds in making the character's argumentative and neurotic nature come off as endearing and comical. He is supported by Sharon Davis as an eminently likeable Holly, with a refreshingly naturalistic performance that carries real weight even though her character almost seems an afterthought in the script at times. Paul Robertson as Luke's intensely traditional father Butch and Kaarin Fairfax as troubled mother Arlene both deliver strong performances and each have their moments to shine, especially Fairfax's act two monologue. However scenes involving three or more characters often falter as actors politely take turns delivering lines, making for awkwardly-scripted dialogue at times. James Biasetto's Brandon is a resentful bible-clutching presence that makes little sense until his excellent scene with Redgate in the second act. As the central character to the entire story, Luke's seems surprisingly underwritten and underdeveloped and Mark Davis' overly-subtle portrayal leaves fellow cast with very little to work with and leaves the audience with very little to care about. Despite this, Redgate and Davis' love-story has some wonderful moments, with some of their more mundane interactions such as arguments or dinner-table discussions coming off as the most genuine and moving.
Awkward group dialogue notwithstanding the individual prowess of the actors is admirable and each has clearly established their character, but by the end it is not clear whose journey we are on, nor exactly what the point of the journey was. Unfortunately this is either where the production ultimately falls short, or (depending on director Peter Blackburn's intentions) where it succeeds the most. Love does not triumph, no one appears to be meaningfully redeemed; ultimately very little seems to change. But when we consider that the content of the play is just as relevant today as it was in 2009, perhaps that's entirely the point.